Enid Blyton Who?

BlytonIf you happen to have an extra 1.85 million pounds lying around, you could become the next proud owner of Enid Blyton’s charming “cottage (in quotes because, really, it’s a sizable home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and three reception rooms).

I’d convert 1.85 million pounds into American dollars for my fellow countrymen and women — according to the stats, most of my readers are American — but, well, would any of them care? My bet is that many of them don’t know who Enid Blyton was.

Britain’s Blyton died almost half a century ago, but she remains one of the the most beloved children’s book authors in the world — except in the United States.*

I didn’t know who she was until the late 1980s when my Australian cousins sent a box of her books over to us. None of these books were available at my local bookstore.  They’re more widely available now, thanks to online retailers, but Blyton’s books still haven’t reached the popularity they have in other places.

I’ve often wondered why that’s the case. Is it that the American market was already saturated with our Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys (then) and our Fancy Nancys and the like (now)? Is it lingering unease about the UK (some 200 years after Independence)? Or is it a case of American self-absorption (do we only want to read about ourselves?).

Who knows.

Interestingly, one of the most popular posts on my blog is actually one about Blyton. Its readers aren’t the usual folks. They’re people from all over the world who google some permutation of “Enid Blyton racism sexism” and land on Enid Blyton, Are We Mistaken?

In that post, I discussed the controversy around some of the content in Blyton’s books that modern readers have deemed racist and sexist. At the time, back when some people in Blyton’s hometown opposed the town’s decision to hold a festival in her honor, I wondered “whether an author’s antiquated, abhorrent views should outweigh the historical importance, literary merit, and entertainment value of [his/her] books.”

Is it fair to judge an author from the past by modern standards? Generally speaking, I would say no, though I might support a publishing company’s decision to cleanse the controversial content to some limited extent (a degree of censorship — a tactic I am usually against — that I discuss in More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes from Children’s Books).

As for Blyton, there are some who just can’t look beyond the racial epithets and sexist attitudes in her books. Meanwhile, there are others who either don’t mind the content or see it as uncomfortable but forgivable remnants from the past.

Blyton’s books may be somewhat less popular than they were in the last century, but there remains a great deal of interest in her work and also in her former home — except in the United States, where few probably care that 1.85 million pounds is about 2.8 million dollars.

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*There must be other countries where she isn’t well known (perhaps countries that were never part of the British empire). However, her books have been translated into more than 80 languages.

21 thoughts on “Enid Blyton Who?

  1. EnidBlytonfanstill in my fifties

    I grew up in French schools in Morrocco (which was a former French colony) and in Europe. That was in the seventies. So… Enid Blyton’s books were omnipresent in my childhood and I loved them. Fast forward 30 years (in 2002 to be exact and I’m living in Canada), when I got my first internet computer, I suddenly had like a curiosity and a surge of nostalgia for my childhood’s heros. I went online and got connected to an Enid Blyton forum in french and I decided that I was gonna buy her books from ebay. It took me about a year to collect all these books and I reread them sometimes, particularly the famous five and the five outers. They’re my favorites and I still LOOOOVE them. Maybe even more than before. I know, they’re sexist and somewhat prejudiced, but… hey different times. I am totally against rewritting things ‘to adapt them for today’s mentality’. I mean… have you ever heard of Charles Dickens books being rewritten because they’re sexist or class conscious? Come on, that’s ridiculous. Leave things as they are. That’s part of history. You don’t rewrite history! At least that’s what I think…

  2. Enid Blyton was one of the staples of my childhood through library books. However I was born in Sri Lanka, a former British colony. If I go to discount bookstores in Melbourne, now I see her books with brand new covers. Even reading in Sri Lanka, the mention of the Golliwog toy made me uneasy but with the Mallory Towers series, the Famous Five and even the Five Find Outers can’t find too much to quibble with.

    1. Yeah, some of Blyton’s books are less controversial than others. My mother is Sri Lankan. I’ve never discussed Enid Blyton with her, but I do know that one of her sisters was a fan of Blyton’s books.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I know the name, but I couldn’t tell you if I know it because of you or from some long ago mention somewhere else. Sadly, I’m one of the Americans that never read her books (as far as I remember). The cynic in me leans more towards the reason being that the U.S. is self-absorbed and has to do it their/our way. Look at all the movie remakes of perfectly good movies–those original movies just weren’t American enough, I guess. I’m sure there are other reasons, but it’s the first one that springs to mind.

    Your post brings to mind the Bobbsey Twins, which I loved reading as a child (my mom’s old copies that were falling apart), and yet today the series is considered to have racial undertones. It’s definitely a series of its time. I also was thinking of a recent post I read on another blog–someone is re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and was surprised at the language. Times have definitely changed.

    I can’t help but wonder what books people 50 years from now will look back on that were written today, and what thoughts they will have on them and society during this time period.

  4. Pingback: It’s Monday and July is nearly over! | Olduvai Reads

  5. As a Brit I read all Blyton’s books as a child. I understand why people see them as racist today however as you point out they were a product of their time. I suppose they can also be viewed as sexist but society had those sort of traditional roles as the norm. Having said that I can honestly say that I have never seen a chair with wings or a special tree where the people get stranger the higher you climb.

    1. It’s nice to hear from someone who read Blyton’s books. I’m curious to know whether people who read them as children would now embrace updated versions that no longer espouse those antiquated norms. The books lose some of the nostalgia associated with them, but they might be more palatable to new readers.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I must admit, without visiting your blog, I would have not heard of this author. I agree, we cannot judge or critique the author’s views if they are not contemporary as to our own. Time, history, culture and social norms play a big part in how we feel about anything at our particular time in history.

    1. You are definitely not the only American who didn’t know who Enid Blyton was. I find it so interesting that someone whose work is so popular around the world is barely known here.

  7. Having grown up in once-British-settlement Singapore, Enid Blyton was beloved in our house although mostly from library books. I have been wondering if her books are something to introduce to my kids in the future. Of course first I’ll have to buy them from Book Depository or somewhere as the libraries here in the US don’t have much (if any)!

    1. I checked my local library to see if they had any Blyton books. The online entry listed 31 books by Blyton, but only one of them is at my local branch. The others are available through inter-library loan (and some of those libraries are quite far away). I might check one or two of them out to see whether my children like them.

  8. Blyton’s books are at least 50 years old now – they were of their time. It’s hardly surprising they are less popular now and (though I haven’t checked) British kids wouldn’t care much for them these days.
    Any non-white person was a curiosity to everyone – adults and children – then. Remember Britain was a very closed and insular society well into the 1960s. Quite honestly no writer could have integrated non-Brits into any story because it simply didn’t occur in real life.
    Thankfully the world has grown up, at least the so-called developed world. Blyton born today would not write as she did then.

    1. I agree that “Blyton born today would not write as she did then.” I’m curious to re-read some of her books now. I don’t really remember any of the ones my cousins sent.

  9. My husband bought me a few Enid Blyton books last time we were in England, so I could try them. I found them very slow-moving, and the children were perhaps a bit less on the ball than the kids in similar American children’s books tend to be.

    1. I read several of them in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but I don’t remember them that well. It’s interesting to hear how the characters differ from the typical characters in American’s children books. That difference might contribute to why those books never got a foothold in the American market (I also wonder whether Blyton never received a good enough deal from American publishers to distribute her books here).

    1. It’s interesting to hear that Blyton’s books have fared better across the Channel than they have across “the pond.” I might give my girls a couple of Blyton books to see whether they like them. The ones my cousins gave us didn’t interest me much, but my younger sister really enjoyed them.

  10. I’ve heard of her but never read any of her books. Online book vendors do us all a huge service by offering books from all over the world. I love reading about other places and cultures by people who live there.

    1. Online booksellers are so much better than the chain bookstores that just sell James Patterson.

      I hope you’re having a great weekend. We’re having another very hot one in Philly. It’s 92, humid, and sunny. I had to do all of my gardening in the early morning.

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